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Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Trinity's Lateralpalooza rocks Division III and beyond

By Pat Forde
ESPN.com

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("I Caught a Lateral in the Trinity-Millsaps [1] Game" T-shirts sold separately):

How To Work A Miracle In 15 Steps

For the sake of posterity, and to help the folks making out the 2008 ESPY invitations, Lateralpalooza went down as follows:

Blake Barmore (2) forward pass to Shawn Thompson (3).

Thompson backward pass to Riley Curry (4).

Curry backward to Josh Hooten (5).

Hooten backward to Michael Tomlin (6).

Tomlin backward to Steve Arnold (7).

Arnold backward to Thompson.

Thompson backward to Brandon Maddux (8).

Maddux backward to Curry.

Curry backward to Maddux.

Maddux backward to Barmore.

Barmore backward to Thompson.

Thompson backward to Curry.

Curry backward to Tomlin.

Tomlin backward to Hooten.

Hooten backward to Maddux.

And finally, well past the apparent boundary of futility and absurdity, Mr. Maddux threw the blissful backward bounce pass to Mr. Curry. Whereupon the junior from Sugar Land, Texas, who wants to become a high-school math teacher, grabbed the football at the 34-yard line and sprinted to the end zone, to the history books, to "SportsCenter" fame and glory, to YouTube immortality, to cult status and beyond.

Seven players. Fifteen laterals. An eternity of real-time action. All to deliver the Trinity (Texas) Tigers to a 28-24 victory over the tackling-deficient Millsaps (Mississippi) Majors in the most famous Division III game ever.

"Disbelief, man," Curry said Monday, roughly 48 hours after scoring the most improbable touchdown in the 138-year history of the sport. "Just disbelief. Still. I just don't believe it."

It has to be the longest play in college football history, timing out at 1 minute and 2 seconds. It's more than twice as long as the legendary five-lateral kickoff return (9) by California against Stanford in 1982, which took roughly 27 seconds to transpire. This evolved slower than a Ken Burns documentary.

Down two points with two seconds left and 61 yards from the end zone, the historic play began simply enough. Coach Steve Mohr (10) made it up on the sidelines: four guys run deep and Thompson curls underneath in the middle.

"That was all of the plan," Curry said.

In the huddle, offensive lineman Hooten looked at Barmore and cracked, "Make it happen." Barmore winked back, broke the huddle, called the signals and delivered the ball.

After Thompson made the catch, the freelancing commenced. And almost never ended.

The initial flurry of flips didn't get Trinity very far. Millsaps defenders still swarmed the middle of the field and prohibited any Tigers from doing much other than playing keep away.

"At one point I just sort of stopped and started laughing to myself," Curry said.

Best lateral of all was the blind-over-the-head toss by Hooten almost as soon as he got the ball. It fortuitously fell into the hands of wide receiver Tomlin, who possesses more maneuverability than the 6-foot, 250-pound Hooten.

"On these lateral plays, a lot of times there's some fat guy trying to score and he gets tackled at the 10-yard line," Hooten said. "I didn't want to be that guy. I just hot-potatoed it and looked for someone to block.

"After a while I thought 'This is getting kind of silly, we're just delaying the inevitable.' Then we started going forward."

On these lateral plays, a lot of times there's some fat guy trying to score and he gets tackled at the 10-yard line. I didn't want to be that guy. I just hot-potatoed it and looked for someone to block.

--Trinity's Josh Hooten

And the weary Millsaps defenders began to slow down. And sag. And quit even trying to tackle. This might not surprise Alabama fans, given their history with the head coach of the Majors -- a fellow named Mike DuBose (11). And so Trinity just kept the ball alive. And the Trinity radio team -- Jonny Wiener (12) and Justin Thompson (13), a pair of students doing a tremendous job with an absurdly difficult call -- clearly started to believe this crazy scheme might work.

Around lateral No. 10, as Trinity advanced past the Millsaps 30, Wiener's voice ratcheted up the urgency. But the Tigers didn't go for the end zone, and Tomlin was nearly taken down with the ball before flipping lateral No. 13 to Hooten -- who, once again, did not keep it long before dishing to Maddux.

When Maddux's final backward pass to Curry bounced, several Majors appeared to quit on the play, thinking the game was over. Some of them were positioned right around Curry, who cleanly gathered the fortuitous bounce.

"There were four guys around me, and the only reason I took off is because they stopped," Curry said. "I think one of them even undid his chin strap. I was like, 'I've got an opening.'"

The opening led all the way to the Promised Land, and to an eruption of exuberance from the broadcasting crew.

"No way! No way!" shouted Thompson, whose little brother Shawn started the play with the reception. "That's a touchdown!"

The visiting sidelines emptied in gleeful shock.

"I scanned the field for flags," said Mohr. "Then I thought, 'This is the most remarkable thing I've seen in 32 years of coaching.'"

In the digital age, even D-III games can go global in a flash. And so a slice of fame normally reserved for the semiprofessionals at the big-dollar Division I programs was bestowed upon the Tigers. That night they gathered in the lobby of their hotel near the Millsaps campus to watch, in disbelief, as they made "SportsCenter."

"I don't think anyone on our team has stopped smiling," said Hooten, a history major from Waco. "That night, I'm laying in bed in the hotel and I'd be half asleep, and I'd just wake up laughing."

And Wiener has had his call of the play heard worldwide.

"I was kind of a bit amazed I was able to get it as well as I did," said Wiener, a sophomore English major and Jackson, Miss., native who grew up down the street from Millsaps. "Now here I am on ESPN, damn. It makes me giddy all over."

He's got company. When the Tigers returned to campus in San Antonio, they had their customary Sunday weightlifting and jogging session. The jog turned into a giddy re-enactment of Lateralpalooza with a tennis ball.

"It's Division III football -- a lot of people call it glorified high school football," Curry said. "We're not as good as the players you see on ESPN's "GameDay," and we know that. But it's just a great football play by a bunch of guys who are playing because they love football."

The November Nine

With the calendar rolling to November, the stretch drive has begun for the 2007 season. The Dash has identified the games that will do the most to shape the run-up to what should be a fascinating Dec. 1 slate of prebowl finales. Reserve your recliner space ahead of time for these tilts:

Dennis Dixon
Dennis Dixon and Oregon face ASU on Saturday.

Arizona State-Oregon (14), Saturday, in Eugene. At stake: First place in the Pac-10 race and -- if the Sun Devils win -- a potential leapfrog of Boston College and LSU into second place in the BCS standings. If the Ducks win, they sharpen their argument for being America's best one-loss team.

LSU-Alabama (15), Saturday, in Tuscaloosa. At stake: First place in the SEC West -- and a whole lot more for the Tigers and coach Les Miles. The Tigers remain in the national championship picture, so this game is vital for that reason -- and losing to former LSU coach Nick Saban would be as much fun as chewing on glass for Miles. It would give him a pair of defeats in each of his three seasons in Baton Rouge -- still a great record, but Two-Loss Les is not the moniker he had in mind. Especially after entering this season with legitimate national title aspirations.

Kansas-Oklahoma State (16), Nov. 10, in Stillwater. In the Unexpected Bowl, the current leader of Big 12 North will meet the current co-leader of the South. With the undefeated Jayhawks still in the national championship hunt, every game they play takes on heightened significance. The Dash just wants to know whether Cowboys coach Mike Gundy will scream at Kansas coach Mark Mangino that his penchant for wearing sunglasses during night games "is garbage." Perhaps not, since Mangino is a father. A father of children.

Todd Boeckman
Will Todd Boeckman and the Buckeyes pass the Michigan test on Nov. 17?

Ohio State-Michigan (17), Nov. 17, in Ann Arbor. Stranger things than a Michigan upset have happened, and very recently. The karmic possibility of the Wolverines beginning the year with a loss to Appalachian State and closing it with a win over the unbeaten, No. 1-ranked Buckeyes just seems to fit this season too well.

Boston College-Clemson (18), Nov. 17, in Clemson. The Tigers are just talented enough to pull the upset here and potentially derail the Matt Ryan Heisman Express. They're also just erratic enough to precede that by losing at Duke this Saturday. That unpredictability should make this a must watch.

Oklahoma-Texas Tech (19), Nov. 17, in Lubbock. The Sooners have only played two true road games outside the state of Oklahoma, and they've hardly distinguished themselves either time: a loss at Colorado and a super-sluggish win at Iowa State. The Red Raiders appear to have gone in the tank, but that's still a dangerous offense.

USC-Arizona State (20), Nov. 22, in Tempe. Could be the last chance for the dynasty formerly known as USC to have an impact on the national championship race. The Trojans have recused themselves, but they could take the Sun Devils down with them in the biggest college Thanksgiving Day game in years.

Boise State-Hawaii (21), Nov. 23, in Honolulu. The Warriors stand a good chance of crashing the BCS -- but only if they get past last year's BCS crasher from the WAC first. Hawaii hasn't beaten Boise since 1999.

Connecticut-West Virginia (22), Nov. 24, in Morgantown. Big East championship could be on the line if the Mountaineers keep winning and the Huskies keep fluking their way through the schedule. (OK, beating South Florida was big. But the official-aided victories over Temple and Louisville still cheapen the body of work. So does a nonconference schedule of Duke, Maine, Akron and the Owls. Please.)

Slingers

This has become the Year of the Quarterback in the Heisman Trophy race. And the more they pile up big stats, the harder it becomes to tell who the best really are. So The Dash cooked up a half-baked formula to tell us which QBs are most vital to their teams' offensive production and win total -- and which QBs are doing it against the toughest competition.

The Dash ranked 18 different quarterbacks -- at least one from every conference -- in four different categories and then averaged those rankings to determine the top 10 gunslingers.

Matt Ryan (23), Boston College.
Percentage of his team's total offense: 69.9
Percentage of his team's total touchdowns: 58.8
Winning percentage: 1.000
Average rank of the defenses he's faced: 63rd.
Gunslinger ranking: 1st.

Tim Tebow (24), Florida.
Percentage of his team's total offense: 72.4
Percentage of his team's total touchdowns: 71.4
Winning percentage: 62.5
Average rank of the defenses he's faced: 52nd.
Gunslinger ranking: 2nd.

Colt Brennan (25), Hawaii.
Percentage of his team's total offense: 78.1
Percentage of his team's total touchdowns: 56.1
Winning percentage: 1.000
Average rank of the defenses he's faced: 115th.
Gunslinger ranking: 3rd.

Graham Harrell (26), Texas Tech.
Percentage of his team's total offense: 79.3
Percentage of his team's total touchdowns: 73.1
Winning percentage: 66.7
Average rank of the defenses he's faced: 96th.
Gunslinger ranking: T-4th.

Dan LeFevour (27), Central Michigan.
Percentage of his team's total offense: 73.8
Percentage of his team's total touchdowns: 65
Winning percentage: 55.6
Average rank of the defenses he's faced: 69th.
Gunslinger ranking: T-4th.

Brian Brohm (28), Louisville.
Percentage of his team's total offense: 69.5
Percentage of his team's total touchdowns: 61.4
Winning percentage: 55.6
Average rank of the defenses he's faced: 64th
Gunslinger ranking: T-6th.

Dennis Dixon (29), Oregon.
Percentage of his team's total offense: 56.7
Percentage of his team's total touchdowns: 54.6
Winning percentage: 87.5
Average rank of the defenses he's faced: 62nd.
Gunslinger ranking: T-6th.

Paul Smith (30), Tulsa.
Percentage of his team's total offense: 68.9
Percentage of his team's total touchdowns: 81.6
Winning percentage: 62.5
Average rank of the defenses he's faced: 75th.
Gunslinger ranking: eighth.

Andre' Woodson (31), Kentucky.
Percentage of his team's total offense: 57
Percentage of his team's total touchdowns: 67.4
Winning percentage: 66.7
Average rank of the defenses he's faced: 69th.
Gunslinger ranking: 9th.

Matt Grothe (32), South Florida.
Percentage of his team's total offense: 66.6
Percentage of his team's total touchdowns: 45.2
Winning percentage: 75
Average rank of the defenses he's faced: 55th.
Gunslinger ranking: 10th.

(Also considered: Patrick White, West Virgnia; Sam Bradford, Oklahoma; Chase Daniel, Missouri; Todd Boeckman, Ohio State; Rudy Carpenter, Arizona State; Omar Haugabook, Troy; Todd Reesing, Kansas; Max Hall, Brigham Young.)

Patience Lessons In … The SEC?

In a league not known for its restraint, we might now have two schools showing the wisdom in waiting before firing an initially unsuccessful coach.

The first, of course, is Kentucky, which is a robust 6-3 in its fifth year under Rich Brooks (33). Last year Brooks' tenure was tenuous until he commenced a late-October turnaround. The Wildcats went 11-2 in a 360-day stretch, winning a bowl game and upsetting No. 1 LSU along the way to show that the administration's faith in Brooks was well-founded.

Alessandra Ambrosio
The Dash thinks Alessandra Ambrosio would have no problem keeping a job in the SEC, at ND or anywhere else.

The second is the same school Brooks beat a year ago to start UK's comeback. It's Mississippi State, which might have turned the corner itself Saturday while winning at … Kentucky. Some State fans wanted Sylvester Croom (34) gone last season at the end of his third year, but Croom has scored road wins over Auburn and the Wildcats here in his fourth season.

Like Brooks at Kentucky, Croom inherited a program scarred by NCAA probation. And like Brooks, he endured lean times and loud criticism in his first three seasons. But now the Bulldogs are 5-4 and dreaming of their first bowl game since 2000.

Perhaps these two fourth-year successes will push back the pendulum that had swung toward three years as a definitive body of work a few years ago. When, for example, Notre Dame fired the Scourge of Humanity, Ty Willingham (35), after three seasons.

Among the reasons why Irish fans insisted Willingham had to go was an excessive number of blowout losses: eight by 20 or more points in his 36 games as head coach. Of course, only a race-baiting rabble rouser would point out that the Scourge's successor, Charlie Weis (36), has seven losses of 20 or more points in 33 games at Notre Dame -- the most recent being a 38-point pasting at home against USC.

Willingham, of course, had it coming to him. Weis, of course, is simply handcuffed by Willingham's recruiting. Incidentally, Nielsen researchers believe they have found a definitive link between the Scourge and Katie Couric's low ratings.

Meanwhile, Dashette Alessandra Ambrosio (37) has no such problems with her ratings. From anyone.

Putting Out An APB For …

… Former Notre Dame linebacker Wes Pritchett (38), one of the defensive heroes of the 1988 Fighting Irish national champions. Anyone with information on Pritchett's whereabouts, please apprise The Dash.

Meanwhile, The Dash reports that last week's bookend APB subjects, former Alabama defensive ends John Copeland and Eric Curry, are believed alive and well and living in the South. Copeland has been a volunteer football coach at Tuscaloosa Academy while re-enrolling at Alabama to finish work on his Kinesiology degree. Curry, according to Dash spies, lives in Jacksonville, Fla., with his wife and two kids.

Point After

When thirsty in the prototypical college town of State College, Pa., The Dash recommends a beer at Shandygaff (39) -- better known as The Gaff. On football weekends it's a sweaty, exuberant a bastion of maleness. While there might not be a preponderance of Dashettes strutting around the place, there are 22-ounce bottles of Yuengling to be had.

And when hungry on a football Saturday, The Dash recommends a stop by the tailgate of Pat Kendig (40) -- former Marine, former cop and eternal Penn State fan. The chili, the sausage, the meatballs, the macaroni and cheese, the London broil, the array of desserts … if you leave Kendig's well-appointed RV party hungry, it's your own fault.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.